Tom Robinson is best known in some circles as a DJ on BBC 6, in others as the leader of the Tom Robinson Band in the 70s which produced such great tracks as Up Against the Wall, Sing If You’re Glad To Be Gay, and Grey Cortina. He had a couple more hits in the 80s (War Baby, Atmospherics, a cover of Steely Dan’s Rikki Don’t Lose That Number), and continued to record in the 90s, including a gorgeous collaboration with Jakko Jaczsyk called We Never Had It So Good. Only The Now, his first album of new musical material since 1999’s Home From Home, is in many ways an album about mortality, and (as the title suggests) about living in this moment because we don’t know what we’ll lose in the next.
The first piece I heard was Don’t Jump Don’t Fall, a very personal address to a boy Robinson knew intimately who committed suicide. As it’s half spoken, I was quite worried that this album might be more Shatner-esque than one wants from someone of Robinson’s talent. I shouldn’t have feared, the album is as musical as one could wish for.

Most of Only The Now is comprised of meditations or addresses to mortality. In this category is a duet with Martin Carthy on the Beatles’ In My Life. Bringing something new to any Beatles title at this late date is hard work, but the two singers pull it off. They let their halting voices carry the pain of the lyrics over a sparse arrangement. At 65, Robinson and Carthy (74) have a greater share of people who have come in and out of their lives than Lennon had at 25, and they don’t make any effort to let it be otherwise.

Merciful God is a rocker about soldiers ‘doing the job that God put me here for’ that in arrangement wouldn’t have been out of place on Power in the Darkness or TRB 2, though it’s lyrically much more ambiguous than those early punk tracks. In contrast, The Mighty Sword of Justice is great old-fashioned hootenanny protest song in which Robinson, Billy Bragg, and folk singer Lisa Knapp address the topic of ‘one law for the rich and another one for the poor’.

The album’s one moment of sheer weirdness is Holy Smoke, a heavily produced song about using pages of the bible for rolling paper on which Ian McKellan provides the voice of God and a rap from Swami Baracus the dissenting view. McKellan also appears on One Way Street, another song about dying young, intoned with a certain Noel Coward-ish irony.

Cry Out, Home In The Morning, and the title track all speak to mortality in different ways. Home in the Morning is in the voice of someone planning to commit suicide and hoping his best friend will tie up the loose ends. It brings to mind Isherwood’s A Single Man. Cry Out is the other side, the pain of those whose friends must remember the names of those who have left. Both are in the first person. The title track, which closes the album is an entreaty to his children and listeners to live in the moment and not take any moment for granted.

I give it four stars.